Sunday 16 April 2017

US News Citizen Rankings place US as No. 17 in the World, so as a PSA, here are some ways you can help get us closer to the top.

The view out my back door today.
They define citizenship as progressive, inclusive countries brimming with social capital.  

While being in the top 20 among 80 countries is better than being at the bottom, the US still has a way to go.  There are some relatively easy fixes considering the wealth that exists in our nation and the plentiful resources already in place in neighborhoods all around the country.  But, it is going to take some redirected thinking on a national level. National Association of Realtors® most recent report cites 42 percent of home shoppers are searching for ranch homes.  This is the largest percentage and very telling, so builders take heed.  I can't go out my back door without seeing evidence of beautifully spacious ranches with near to zero entry being bulldozed and replaced with multi-story mini mansions with elevated entrances. This leaves me to wonder if any standards of visitability are being met, or ideally, elevators and all inclusive practices being put in place for the future occupants and visitors. I fear not, but hope this is assumption is wrong. 

The US News report cites Norway as the leader and one to be followed, so it is time to step up the game, people of the United States.  I am sharing this info as a PSA not just from the perspective of a parent of a teenager with a disability, but also as a person who has worked in the real estate industry for over 14 years.  Needless to say, as a family we live this and I know it is through the development and redevelopment of real estate that social capital is built and flourishes. Constructing and reconstructing things only a limited portion of the population can fully enjoy is not inclusive or progressive, it is exclusive and regressive, period.  So, this is what needs to happen, first and foremost, starting with money:

Improvements need to be paid for, so Lenders:  Making life easier to live for people is going to help them be active, thriving citizens who are able to contribute to the overall economic development in a region. Not to mention, if a borrower of a home mortgage is expected to repay 100% of that mortgage over the terms of the agreement, they should be able to use 100% of the property.  Offering affordable, incentive funding for UD improvements will address a need for more accessibility in residential real estate stock while demonstrating recognition of an untargeted market and the opportunity for growth.

Government Officials:  Push for universal building standards based on minimum ADA guidelines be followed across public and private construction industries and by the lending institutions funding the improvements. These minimums need to encompass all interior and exterior components that make up real property because real property needs to accommodate real people.  These standards are what is best for the country as a whole because it will ensure projects are done right the first time and avoid the financial gridlock people will face when having to make retrofits. Plus, overtime, it will improve the health and wellbeing of the entire country which will save on healthcare in addition to reducing the unemployment rate because people will be more independent and able to support themselves once they can move about freely.

City Planners and Architects:  Learn the principles and goals of universal design if the term is unfamiliar to you, then apply them to achieve them.  Study and learn from the construction and infrastructure projects being developed in the countries outranking the US.  Make sure major development projects or anything to do with development in general, follows suit.  This applies to transportation projects because transportation is the lifeline that connects people so this has to be part of the planning process with a big focus on active transportation because the more active people are, the healthier they are which benefits the country in general. 

Mass Home Builders: Invest a portion of your profits on new designs or reworking your current portfolio of home designs and please quit building things only a limited portion of the population can live in with comfort and dignity.  Raise the bar and make UD improvements standard practice instead of making accessibility features options and forcing people to ask for what should already be in place.    

Professional Custom Homebuilders: Be a leader and please quit calling them tear downs. Step back, open your eyes and think thrice before bulldozing all the solidly built mid-century ranches out there. Exercise your creative rights and broaden your target market by appealing to the swarms of people who want and and need the clean and classic lines of the sprawling ranch.  If you have to demo, save it for the existing hardscaping and interior but by all means, keep the structure.   If your clients are requesting a multi level home, make sure an elevator is part of the plan, plus at least one zero entry and a ramped entry from the garage. This is on top of making sure the rest of the home is universally designed as well.  Don't make the future occupants of the home you are building or the people who may visit them, prisoners of a limited environment if they have mobility issues. 

Rehabbers: Make sure the principles of universal design are used in your planning process--before you spend A PENNY on demo, site work, or building materials.  Your clients are coming to you for your expert advice and creativity so don't hold back.   You will win customers and referrals for life for your direction and integrity.   

Average Joe/Joanne, DIYer: Do yourself, your family, friends and even pets a favor and make sure each and every project undertaken takes into consideration the needs of all who cross the threshold and not just the ones who walk in on two feet.

AND if you are none of the above, without a doubt you remain THE MOST important of all:

A Citizen: This means you are also a customer and an end user so please demand universal design be applied. Don't waste your hard earned dollars, whether they are coming out of your pocket directly, or the funds you are entrusting to other people to look out for your best interests.

Here is the article on the rankings. 

Please share this post to help get the points across.

Amy Barnes

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